Review From The Cellar

For a late-morning brunch in Mid-town Manhattan, my dining companion suggested The Brasserie, as much for the look of the restaurant  (see New York, New York: Part I) as for the brunch menu.

A frequently used derogatory reference when I was growing up - eons ago before more graphic terms became common usage - was "he is too dumb to  walk and chew gum at the same time."  The implication being that not only could the maligned victim not multitask, but he or she couldn't even multitask at two such fundamental activities.

Well I have heard of terms like anti-matter and anti-gravity but I confess that I had not heard of anti-shoes until I walked into a store looking for sandals to replace the ones that kept giving me blisters.   Ballroom dancing is really hard on my feet, especially since I mostly wear quite high heels, so I am always interested in finding out more about different brands.  Julie, my massage therapist - who looks like an angel but finds every pain spot like a devil - suggested that my biomechanical problems - tight IT bands and tight every other muscle, would be better served if I got good flat shoes for walking. I was on a search for  SAS sandals and thanks to my computer, found a store on Granville Stret, downtown, that carries them.

One of the best kept secrets in Vancouver is a little gem of a restaurant that is located on the south side of Granville Street between Helmcken and Davie Street. It has a warm and welcoming ambience, great service and excellent food at reasonable prices. I have eaten here on two occasions now and both experiences have been great.

While waiting for our ferry sailing from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, we stopped off at Bay Moorings Restaurant for a light supper.  We left our luggage in the conveniently located rack near the front desk - I guess they do a roaring business with travellers waiting for ferry sailings.

During my long career in medicine, I would make a point of visiting  hospital laboratories, especially in children's hospitals, whenever I visited a country or a city that boasted of  a paediatric  hospital. And generally I returned to Vancouver with a renewed pride in the quality of care we provided in the laboratories of our own Children's and Women's Hospital here in BC.

Vancouver is a truly a foodie's paradise. Top quality ingredients daily are sought out by innovative chefs to produce a bounty of fresh taste sensations. So much so that I rarely have a restaurant meal that I don't enjoy. But every now and then along comes a dining experience that stands head and shoulders above even the many excellent meals  I have recently enjoyed. Completely unexpectedly, last night I had such an experience, thanks to the "Chef's Table" concept at Goldfish Pacific Kitchen and the magic touch of  new Food Development Chef, Ryan Mah.

Day 3 in  Chicago- July 2009  was the only free evening I had to see a play. Fortunately we were able to get two tickets to Up at the Steppenwolf theatre. The show time was early - 7:30 - and my friend was driving in after work, so I would be dining alone. I decided to see if I could get a table at BOKA, across the street  and a little up (no pun intended) from the theatre. After an excellent dinner the night before at  Perennial, their sister restaurant  I had checked out the BOKA  web site and the menu of executive chef, Giuseppe Tentori, looked great.  

For our Monday night dinner, my friend chose Perennial on North Lincoln Avenue. We were delighted that it was open as it appears that, in the same way that most theatres are dark on Monday nights, many restaurants here chose not to open on Mondays.

Normally I wouldn't really bother to write up a burger cafe but I was so pleasantly surprised by my riverside lunch that I thought it warranted some comments. This was  Day 3 of my Chicago 2009 visit. I had checked into the Sheraton Hotel and  was wandering around the area. The Chicago Burger Company Cafe is located on the river side of the hotel, with tables on a patio, and more tables down on the river walk itself. 
 

For my last two nights of  this trip to Chicago I was booked into the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers on E. North Water Street. The hotel is located on the north side of the branch of the Chicago River that once drained into Lake Michigan.  This was the headquarter hotel for the Canadian Society of Clinical Chemists and next day's Canada Party would be hosted in one of the Sheraton ballrooms. 

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of  yogurt, homemade granola and berries, with coffee brewed in a very impressive looking Miele Coffee maker, and set off early on our explorations. First stop was McCormick Place, the largest convention centre in North America. This was the main site of the conference, although meetings and events were also scheduled in several of the downtown hotels. I had pre-registered but wanted to pick up my registration materials and programs to check out times and places of the events I planned to attend. 

Before beginning our exploration of the new modern wing galleries of the Institute, we visited the new restaurant, Terzo Piano, a 160 seat restaurant with indoor dining and al fresco dining on a terrace that overlooks Millennium Park. The restaurant which opened in May 2009 when the Institute opened its Modern Wing, was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, for whom the restaurant is named.

As I noted in my  Chicago Diary 2009, this visit to Chicago  is brief,  essentially only four nights, so we wasted no time before setting out  to sample  some great food.  The first restaurant  my friends chose for me to check out was a Japanese cuisine and sushi restaurant, Takashi, in Bucktown on Chicago's North side. The restaurant takes its name from chef Takashi Yagihashi.

Not that one should need an excuse for dining out but out-of-town visitors provide a special opportunity to show off our superb Vancouver restaurants, our fresh and varied edibles and our fine BC wines.  For my guests from Arizona, I thought seafood was the way to start.  A pleasant ten minute walk through Yaletown got us to Blue Water Cafe right on time for our 6:15 reservation. Most of the tables on the outdoor patio were already full. We debated sitting outside but the overhead heaters were on whereas the interior of the restaurant felt pleasantly cool. So we opted for a comfortably spacious  booth inside. 

When the sun shines in Vancouver, there is little that can beat a leisurely lunch on a patio, looking out over sparkling water. This past week I took the opportunity to lunch with friends on two restaurant patios in Yaletown, on the north side of False Creek.

The Bard-on-the-Beach 2009 season has officially begun and we were off to Vanier Park to see Othello. Surfing around for restaurants close by I thought that this Bistro at 1st and Cypress would be a pleasant walk away from the Bard location. Although Kitsilano's neighbourhood Smoking Dog French bistro has been here "forever" as I learned while my dining companion regaled me with its history,  this was my first time trying it out.

It is always great when you can get a recommendation for great food from a local resident. One of the ports of call on my recent  West Coast Ballroom Dancing Cruise was Astoria, Oregon. Rather than an organized tour, at this stop  I chose to take a drive with some new friends down the South Oregon coast to Tillamook.

When I first moved into my Yaletown apartment, our neighborhood Yaletown Honjin became our favorite place for take-out sushi.  It is a pleasant 5 minute stroll along the sea wall and then through the park, to the restaurant. We would phone in our order, enjoy the salt sea air on the way to fetch the food, and then hurry home with the myriad aromas of freshi sushi tantalizing us.  A little dash of wasabi in the soy sauce... and sea food heaven!  And now when my family comes to visit, inevitably within the first day or two someone will ask "so when are we calling in the sushi order?"

On Saturday evening I was meeting a friend to see  "Top Girls" at the Vancouver Playhouse. I decided to extend my search range for pre-show restaurants  beyond the three block radius from the Queen Elizabeth/Playhouse complex, and came up with Lux at the Caprice, on Granville between Nelson and Smythe. There is major construction still going on along Granville and they have ripped up the sidewalks so by the time I walked along Granville from Georgia to the restaurant my shoes were coated with dust.  The entrance to Lux was also not well marked and I nearly walked right by it.This construction is really tough on the businesses on the streets affected.  Anyway to avoid the mess on the way back down to the theatre we crossed Granville and walked down Smythe thus avoiding two blocks of dust.

We were planning to see Antigone Unbound later  at the Leaky Heaven Circus Studio above the Russion Hall, so finding ourselves in the general vicinity of Chinatown we decided to wander around and find somewhere for a casual supper. I remembered that there was a place inside the Tinseltown complex that I had wanted to check out so we took the escalator to the second floor and wandered into Kentizen. It was still early,  around 5:30 and so we took a window table and studied the menu. As we were debating the merits of Japanese food versus Chinese food, the manager suggested we check out the buffet.

It is a while since I have been to West; certainly before the changing of the guard so to speak,  to executive chef Warren Geraghty. With tickets to Les Misérables at the nearby Stanley Theatre we decided to splurge a little and check out West. This was a first time eating there for my dining companion so I pointed out their wall wine storage system that I have always admired. The whole wall behind the bar is built like library shelves with  a sliding ladder that can be moved from end to end to access items on the higher shelves - only this shelving system is refrigerated and holds wine bottles instead of books. Since I first saw this system I wanted to build something similar for my books but having downsized - well, my apartment hardly has that amount of space and I would probably trip over the ladder, anyway. So my wine is in a small wine cabinet and my books on conventional shelving.

This is the second time I have eaten at r.tl but as the previous occasion was a spontaneous visit I did not have my camera with me, and I felt the attractive presentation of the dishes warranted visual rather than verbal images. My first visit was a few weeks ago: while walking back from the theatre. My friend and I wanted to continue our discussion of the performance over a light meal, and on the spur of the moment, dropped into r.tl. It was a little late in the evening for eating, by my standards anyway; from years of arriving home from work famished I am usually ready for dinner before 6 pm! But we were warmly welcomed by Alain Canuel, operations director and Sommelier, who explained the concept behind the menu. I enjoyed the couple of dishes we had so much that I vowed to return with my camera, and learn more about the regional tasting concept.

Here is my more-or-less recipe for my chock-full-o-health bran muffins. The more-or-less refers partly to the golden raisins and dried apricots which I add in different quantities depending on my mood or what I happen to have in my pantry. It also refers to the fact that I tend to experiment with ingredients, oven temperatures and cooking times - so this is the formula I am using currently (no pun intended!).

I was meditating about the link between eating and emotional state when the early morning view from my office window derailed my profoundly philosophical and serious approach to this topic by elevating my mood to a state where I could no longer sit typing about angst and sorrows. 

In the past I have enjoyed several great dinners at Lumiere and also enjoyed eating at the bistro a couple of times. However that was ages ago before the new incarrnation as db Bistro Moderne. So even before setting foot in the Bistro my mouth was watering in anticipation of an excellent meal.  Billing itself as a blend of " traditional French cuisine, New York Haute Cuisine and the bright flavours of the Pacific North West"  - the place has a lot to live up to.  The remodelled space is much larger and lighter than before.

Food for the mind and food for the tummy - what more satisfying blend could there be than cooking and the arts? Think leisurely dinner before seeing a play or an opera, and anticipating the visual and auditory feast that is coming up on stage. Or think post-show coffee and dessert as you dissect the performance you have just seen.
 

For many years, through undergraduate and post-graduate medical training, the most important thing that got me through endless late nights of study was having copious cups of coffee near to hand. I believe the human race essentially is divided into two groups, those who can drink a cup of coffee at dinner and fall asleep with no difficulty, and those who cut off their caffeine intake at noon if they want to sleep that night. I belong to the latter group.

One evening over dinner, the discussion came round to memorable meals away, and the topic of roast beef, English style came up.  Recalling wonderful meals in London, and a few restaurants in the US, that serve  beef slices carved at table-side from a large roast, a fellow diner bemoaned the fact that he had not found a restaurant in Vancouver that served up such meals.  When I tried to remember when I had last had roast beef or for that matter, roast lamb or ham served in that way, I could only think of events such as  buffets at conference banquets or cruise buffets!   And at the conference buffets, there were usually long line ups to get a bun, smear it with mustard or other condiments, and then have a cook slap a semi-congealed piece of meat onto the bun. Hmmm. Not too appealing.

Since this is my "hood" I felt it was time to re-explore more of Yaletown's fine restaurants. We were going  to the Arts Club at Granville Island to see The Real Thing but instead of re-visiting one of the places I have already reviewed and walking to the show, I decided to try  the "dine and dash". No, in my lingo that does not mean leave without paying - but eating more than a short walking distance away and then zipping over the Granville Street bridge to the theatre.
 

Continuing my exploration of the dining scene in the Kitsilano area I decided to check out The New Bohemian before going off to see The Idiots Karamazov at the Freddy Wood Theatre at UBC. It has been open about a year, I was told, in the location where Fiction had been previously. I appreciated that they opened up the wall between the lounge and bar area  - the place  seemed larger and more open than I remembered. We recognised scenes from The Graduate projected on the wall as we entered.
 

This review covers my latest two visits to Cassis Bistro although I have been there several times before. Cassis is about two blocks away from the Vancouver Playhouse so it is very convenient  for pre-show dining. On previous occasions at Cassis I always opted for their entree of Muscovy Duck braised with oranges, so I thought it was time to try their other dishes.

We decided that we should try to fit in a nice dinner out one night BBC (Before baby comes) and decided on OPAH Restaurant and Bar which was about 5 minutes away by car. Thinking that our party of three adults and a  4 year old would be better off  away from the bar area, we decided to try the patio. I was a bit sceptical at first but the  overhead heaters worked fine to take the slight chill out of the air and we were very comfortable.

For our second ladies' night out exploring the restaurants along 4th Avenue, we chose Trattoria. They don't take dinner reservations so we planned to arrive early, just after 6 pm.  We were seated promptly, and when one of our party asked to move away from the the proximity of the windows, we were rapidly relocated to a more central table.
 

Vancouver, BC:  Until now, the words " victims of the Holocaust" to me encompassed the dead and the survivors of  the concentration camps, their relatives and their descendants. In a different way, one might also consider that the psyche of every Jewish person, whether directly connected to the camps or not, has been victimised by the attitudes underlying the Nazi's "Final Solution".

When I really really really enjoy the first taste of  a dish, I sometimes spontaneously break into an odd little shoulder-jiggling dance accompanied by sounds of appreciation that I don't quite know how to spell. Sort of like - uhuhuhuh! Jiggle,jiggle, jiggle -uhuhuhuh. When I realized some time ago that I have this tendency I worked hard to control it - It's not very dignified to be making incoherent sounds of bliss when you are trying to be objective in your approach to evaluating your meal. Still every now and then I forget - the food is great- and the jiggle appears.

It is probably more than 10 years since I had dinner at this location and it has been on my list of places to check out for ages.  So finally, before heading off to a play at the PTC stage I reserved a table. Although my dining companion described the decor as  somewhat minimalistic, I liked  the spaciousness, the simplicity and the ambience.  The tables are a reasonable size and spaced comfortably apart so that  one can converse easily. The student chefs, who work as servers one night  each week, are polite but not intrusive. 

More than thirty years ago,the first time I sailed on the Aegean Sea, I fell under the spell of the Aegean islands. Much later when our oldest child was in his final high school year, as we planned a vacation in Europe with our children,the first component of the trip that we all agreed on was to go sailing among the Greek Islands. The image of white washed homes reflecting sunshine against cerulean waters has always stayed with me - and made me into an interior decorator's nightmare. In my home I always end up painting the interior walls stark white to recapture the sense of light and airiness.

Visit 1: Chilled by the icy wind and still stunned by the film we had just seen, (the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) we settled gratefully into the comfortable booth we were offered  and began to thaw. It was not quite 5:30 and quiet so we had the opportunity to chat  to Tracey, our charming server, about the restaurant and menus.  Although I was tempted by many of the other a la carte items on the menu, the Prix Fixe special that offered a soup or salad, an entree from the fresh sheet, and a dessert or cheese plate, was too good value to pass up.  And it was a good choice too.

As we walked along Granville looking for Ouisi (with my "infallible" sense of direction,  I had turned right - south instead of north from our parking spot on 12th), we were speculating about the origin of the name.  Since it could be deconstructed as oui and si, we decided that it must mean  "yes, yes." Great name for a restaurant, we thought. But after we found the place and were seated, Catherine, our smiling server, said it came from the middle part of Louisiana.  We should have guessed since it serves Cajun and Creole food.

The restaurant has a spectacular location, high above the city with a great view. We were seated at a comfortable sized table. I took the banquette seat looking outwards. My companion faced into the restaurant where she could watch the tables rapidly filling up. They have a large open kitchen area where one can observe the action. Doug, our server, was knowledgeable and attentive without being intrusive. He had worked in Vancouver and we shared perspectives on the incredibly abundant restaurant scene in the city.

On my last visit to Toronto during another cold, snowy spell, we visited Omi Restaurant in its old location on Church Street and had our first introduction to their Omakase meal. Omakase essentially is a chef's selection of dishes based on high quality fresh ingredients available on that particular day. On that first visit we were so impressed that we actually went back a couple of days later to try it again. Then it closed.

I have been a fan of German Rieslings for years. Raised eyebrows, quizzical or even somewhat patronising looks and comments about sophisticated palates and  full bodied red wines would  wash over me. I just smiled to myself as I picked up my Rhine or Mosel  Riesling at the BC Liquor Store for a very reasonable price, and prayed to Dionysus and Bacchus (depending on whether I felt more Greek or Roman that day) that these wines would not become too "fashionable."

I was recently invited to dinner at Villa del Lupo, an elegant Italian restaurant in a heritage building on Hamilton.  Although I have dined there several times, it has to be more than ten years since my last visit. It retains the old-world European  ambience with comfortably sized tables, spaced far enough apart  to allow quiet conversation. 

Having recently learned a few culinary terms for Italian, Spanish and Indian dishes, I was delighted to be invited by my friends, Linda  and Brian,  to a Swiss night for racelette and fondue. Their plan was to ply us with food and wine and then have a quiz about all things Swiss. This is an occasion where my "just in time" approach to life let me down.  I forgot my firm resolve, formed when Linda invited me, to cram a Wikipedia post full of Swiss trivia into my brain so I could stun my friends with  my encyclopedic knowledge. In fact, until the moment Linda announced the contest I had forgotten there was to be one. So there I was, totally unprimed with facts, other than its location in Europe, the appearance of the Swiss flag, and the fact that I had actually spent two days in Zurich more than thirty years ago.

The Dockside Restaurant in the Granville Island Hotel is really convenient if you are going to see a play at Performance Works, about  1 minute walk from the hotel entrance. We were going to see Influence, a new play by BC writer, Janet Munsil, that was opening at Performance Works, so dinner at Dockside was an excellent choice. Whenever I have been there before it has been quite busy so I made a reservation for 6 pm. We were shown to  a window table with a beautiful view across False Creek. Vancouver is such a spectacular city. 

Shortly after 6, in good time for my reservation,  (see Gillian's Kitchen) I arrived at Cobre Restaurant which features "nuevo latino cucina" (which I hope translates into contemporary Latin American cooking ). I was seated at a nice spacious window table where I could look out onto Powell Street. I was cold and hungry, and my dining companion had called to say she may not get there until 6:30.

I was going to see a new play, The Velvet Edge, at a venue that I had not previously been to, the Chapel Arts Centre on Dunlevy and East Cordova,  about two blocks east of the Firehall Theatre. So casting around for somewhere to eat before the show, I decided to enhance my newly acquired Spanish food vocabulary by eating at Cobre Restaurant in Gastown.  Cobre features "Nuevo Latino Cuisine," contemporary cooking  from Latin America.

In the evening we were heading out to the Telus Studio Theatre on the Point Grey campus of University of British Columbia to see Billy Bishop Goes To War. So I thought we would check out Gastropod for an early supper. Our reservation was for 5:30 and despite heavy traffic, we got there shortly after 5:30. We were warmly greeted and shown to a nice table, that could comfortably seat four. It was in the elevated section so we could look out over the rest of the restaurant. The impression is of a light, airy and open space.

For one who likes going to combine seeing plays and eating out, Granville Island is very convenient, as it has at least six indoor theatre spaces alone, that I can think of, as well as a variety of restaurants appealing to different palates and pockets; and all within a few minutes walk of each other.  The Sandbar Restaurant and the small sushi section down below are two places I often visit. I have found that in the summer it is often advisable to call for a reservation,  but this time, on a rainy Thursday night at 6 pm,  we decided to just walk in and take our chances.